This week, the Pentagon's internal news service ran a new story under an old photo, with a headline that read: "Commander: Afghan forces gaining capability, respect." The fact that has to be said tells perhaps more than the actual story.
In the past week, military officials from Kabul to Washington have entered a spin battle with journalists reporting on the ground over just how well the war is going
. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday said the Afghanistan war plan was "solid," and the plan toward a 2014 withdrawal remains in place, pending the assessment from outgoing war commander Gen. John Allen expected in Washington next month.
"It's a plan that we have a tremendous amount of confidence in, and we've seen it already working effectively to try to accomplish the transitions that we're trying to accomplish. I really think that the best thing we could do at this point is to stick to it and make sure that we implement it the way it was designed to be implemented," he said in a Pentagon press conference.
Stewart Upton, a Marine Corps public affairs officer well-known around the E-Ring currently serving in Kabul, wrote a commentary in Foreign Policy in which he insisted the media was missing the picture
. "Many of us on the ground don't understand the recent pessimism," he wrote.
U.S. Army Col. John Shafer, commanding officer of Regimental Combat Team 6, gave an interview to the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service, two of the Defense Department's most closely-crafted messaging machines. In Shafer's assessment, he said, "Afghan national security forces have had to step up to meet the challenges that the Taliban have presented. And overwhelmingly, they have done very well and been very successful."
"I think we are well on track
," he added.
Central Command ran the above photo of Shafer standing shoulder to shoulder with Afghan National Army Brig. Gen. Abdul Wasea, commanding general of the 2nd Brigade, 215th Corps. The picture is dated March, 2012.
Just last week, Afghan commanders visiting the Pentagon
sounded more weary than appreciative of U.S. help, but acknowledged insider attacks were splintering the two sides.
But another picture of what Afghanistan feels like on "the ground" also was offered by New York Times' Kabul bureau chief Allisa J. Rubin. Rubin this week wrote a chilling account
of just how dangerous Afghanistan remains, how hostile Afghans are toward their American minders, and how little trust exists between the U.S. military and some Afghan security forces. Rubin was told of how an Americans refused to let an Afghan colonel pass a check point. A seemingly low-level offense, but not to Afghan soldiers tired of their American minders. An Afghan commander told Rubin, as she described it:
“My solders were ready to shoot him in the face.”
That resentment extended to me.
“Look at this bitch — they kill us and she comes here to spy on us,” one soldier said while we were interviewing his comrades.
Another agreed, “They are all spies,” he said.